Update: Jeffrey Epstein has entered a not guilty plea—see below for full update.
Billionaire financier Jeffrey Epstein has been indicted on charges of sex trafficking minors and sex trafficking conspiracy, over a decade after Epstein first wrangled a contentious plea deal on allegations that he'd been running a "sexual pyramid scheme" from his various homes.
Epstein's appearance in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York on Monday comes just two days after the the FBI-NYPD Crimes Against Children Task Force arrested him at the Teterboro Airport in New Jersey. Prosecutors allege that between at least 2002 and 2005, Epstein knowingly enticed "dozens of minor girls" to his Upper East Side mansion and Palm Beach estate; that he paid them hundreds of dollars in cash to strip naked (or partially naked) and give him hyper-sexual massages. Additionally, the indictment says, he purposefully preyed on young women who "were, for various reasons, often particularly vulnerable to exploitation." ("One step away from homelessness," is how the Miami Herald previously put it.)
During the massages, according to the indictment, "Epstein would escalate the nature and scope of physical contact with his victim to include, among other things, ... groping and direct and indirect contact with the victim's genitals." Sometimes, it continues, he would masturbate; sometimes, he would make the victims touch him, or let him use sex toys on them. (In the past, certain victims have contended that abuse escalated to rape, and sex between an adult and a minor is, by definition, statutory rape.) Prosecutors also allege that Epstein offered substantial cash bonuses to girls who brought in other girls, and that "in this way, Epstein created a vast network of underage victims ... to sexually exploit"; "a steady stream of minor[s]" feeding into his mansions.
It was an "ever expanding web of new victims," U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said.
Sometimes, prosecutors say, Epstein would arrange these appointments himself, and sometimes he would have his associates set them up, calling ahead to make sure girls were available at his Palm Beach home to service him if he was flying back from New York. According to the indictment, he always knew when these young women were under the age of 18, either because he asked how old they were and they answered truthfully, or because he had teens recruited because they fit his preferred profile.
The enormous front door to Jeffrey Epstein's Manhattan mansion, which the NYPD and FBI searched this weekend. (Jake Dobkin/Gothamist)
On Saturday, members of the NYPD and FBI searched Epstein's seven-floor, East 71st Street home, prying open its gargantuan doors with a crowbar. At Monday's press conference, Berman said those agents "recovered and seized evidence including nude photographs of what appear to be underage girls" during their search. At that mansion, one of Epstein's alleged victims—Virginia Roberts Giuffre—says the financier kept her as a "sex slave" between 1999 and 2002. "My only purpose for Epstein, [British socialite Ghislaine] Maxwell and their friends was to be used for sex," she has stated. In addition to enlisting girls to have sex with him, Epstein has previously been accused of securing underage sex partners for his wealthy friends, including—but not limited to—Maxwell, attorney Alan Dershowitz, and Prince Andrew, who deny the allegations.
— Yashar Ali 🐘 (@yashar) July 8, 2019
It bears noting, though, that at the time all of this was allegedly going on, Epstein also partied with former President Bill Clinton, and current President Donald Trump, who once said of the billionaire: "I've known Jeff for fifteen years. Terrific guy. He's a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side. No doubt about it—Jeffrey enjoys his social life."
Damage to Epstein's front door after NYPD and FBI agents busted in. (Jake Dobkin/Gothamist)
The charges outlined in Monday's indictment are familiar: In late November, the Miami Herald published a series of reports detailing Epstein's alleged sex trafficking ring, having identified 60 over victims. In 2006, Florida authorities brought charges against Epstein, and in 2007, the FBI prepared an indictment against him, one that ended up staying sealed after he accepted a cushy plea deal. He wound up serving 18 months in a country club jail, with a daily work release, and had to register as a sex offender.
At the press conference, Berman declined to confirm that the Herald's stories catalyzed the indictment, noting only that the agencies were "aware of the report." He did, however, acknowledge intensive investigative journalism in bringing this case full circle.
As for Epstein's deal with the Southern District of Florida, Berman pointed that he "entered into non-prosecution [there]—the Southern District of New York is not bound by the agreement."
"The FBI’s Sweeney urged anyone who might be a victim of Epstein to contact the Victim & Witness Services professionals of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, at 866-874-8900, and reference the current case against him." https://t.co/uFOQm66Yyd
— monkeyrotica (@monkeyrotica) July 8, 2019
Now, the FBI is asking anyone else who may have been abused by Epstein to contact the Victim and Witness Services at the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, pursuant the current case against him. "Your bravery might just empower others to speak out against crimes committed against them," William F. Sweeney, assistant director in charge for the FBI's New York field office, said at Monday's press conference. "It's important to remember there never was, nor ever will be, an excuse" for behavior like Epstein's.
Prosecutors are seeking to hold him without bail until the trial begins. "We think he's a significant flight risk," Berman said. "That's why we're seeking detention pending trial, he has enormous wealth. The charges are very serious," meriting up to 45 years in prison, he continued. At Epstein's age (66, for reference), that's "basically a life sentence," Berman noted.
"When you have two planes and you live much of the year abroad," he added, "we think that's a very real risk. "
Update: Jeffrey Epstein has pleaded not guilty to the sex trafficking-related charges against him. Prosecutors can legally keep Epstein behind bars for three days in preparation for a bail hearing, so it appears he won't be headed home today.
At Epstein's home, meanwhile, investigators reportedly found "an extraordinary volume of photographs of nude and partially nude young women or girls," which is to say, hundreds or even thousands of images, some of them baring labels like "Girl pics nude." They also seized a variety of "corroborating evidence" that includes "contemporaneous notes [and] messages"—replete with names and contact information—plus phone records that "confirm the defendant and his agents were repeatedly in contact with various victims during the charged period."